5 Notorious Medieval and Renaissance Witches
As we grew up, adults told us stories about the good and evil creatures that mankind has created in fairytales, myths, and legends.
Some kids watched movies about vampires and werewolves, others had parents read them novels about ogres and sphinxes, and many children heard stories about dragons or the boogeyman from their friends. But one common creature that children learned about was the witch: an ugly, old person who used their supernatural powers for many evil deeds.
Although these Witches were part of children’s’ fables, there have been many people throughout history that were hung after being accused of witchcraft. Most of the accused were innocent people who were murdered due to their physical or mental differences during the medieval and Renaissance periods, but a handful confessed to being evil people.
No one could disprove their confessions, and no one wanted to do so for that could mean being accused of witchcraft themselves, so they wasted no time in killing the “guilty”.
In modern times, the term “witch” refers to women, while men are referred to as “warlocks”, so I have based my list on notorious historical female witches from the medieval and Renaissance periods.
Agnes Waterhouse was an elderly widow from Hatfield Peverel, a large village in Essex, England. She was known as Mother Waterhouse and, in 1566, she became the first person in England to be executed for witchcraft under the newly stated Witchcraft Act of 1563. It all started after her sister, Elizabeth, gave her a cat called Satan. The cat was passed down from Elizabeth’s grandmother, who taught Elizabeth witchcraft. Elizabeth told Agnes that the cat would grant any of her wishes as long as it was fed a few drops of blood.
Agnes tested this by telling her cat to kill a hog, which it did. Then, Agnes told the cat to kill three hogs, which it again did. From there, Agnes began to exact revenge on her neighbours and kill their livestock until a twelve-year-old neighbour convicted her of witchcraft. She claimed a demon that looked like a black dog showed up to threaten her and when she asked who his “dame” was, he said it was Agnes.
Later, Agnes went to trial and confessed all these evil doings as well as additional crimes such as killing her husband and murdering a local man named William Fynee. Before she was hung, her final words were prayers for God’s forgiveness.
Walpurga Hausmännin was a midwife from Dillingen, Germany who had been a widow for about thirty years. Her neighbours accused her of witchcraft after many of her clients had given birth to stillborns, had their children die soon after birth (due to accidents or disease), or had died during pregnancy.
Her reputation soon caught the attention of authorities, who listened to the neighbours charge Walpurga of forty-three crimes during her nineteen years of being a licensed and pledged midwife. She was arrested and put under torture before admitting to her crimes of witchcraft and her relationship with the devil. She claimed that when she was newly widowed, she had a lustful experience with a demon who later flew her on a pitchfork to Satan where she renounced God. After Satan confirmed her contract with him, they ate roasted babies and drank wine before having intercourse.
Eventually, Walpurga became a midwife to work alongside Satan in order to kill infants before they could be baptized. Her confessions quickened the trial, and she was taken through the city to be executed in 1587. On her way there, she was slashed a number of times before being burned alive at the stake and having her ashes dumped in a stream.
3Angèle de la Barthe
Angèle de la Barthe was supposedly the first person to have ever been put to death for witchcraft during the medieval ages. She was described as a noblewoman from Toulouse, France who followed Catharism, which was deemed as a heretical religion at the time by the Catholic Church. Unlike most of the accused, Angèle freely admitted to many people that she met with the devil (most likely due to a mental illness).
When she was fifty-six, her concerned neighbours turned her into the authorities and judges listened to her confessions. She recounted that a demon had visited her every night for the past couple of years and they would have sex. One time, she got pregnant and gave birth to a demon with the tail of a serpent and head of a wolf, whose food consisted of human flesh. To feed him, Angèle would steal infants at night and give them to the demon until, one night, he disappeared and never returned.
The authorities immediately gave the order to execute her, and in 1275 she was burned alive. Today, some researchers have come forth saying that her story may have been invented by a 15th-century chronicler, but until it can be proven that she never existed, her story will remain in our historical accounts.
2Matteuccia di Francesco
Matteuccia di Francesco was a popular herbal healer who performed counter-magic for people who thought they had been bewitched or cursed and she also treated women that were abused by their husbands.
In her small village of Ripabianca, Italy, the witch stereotype was unfolding, and the townsfolk began to accuse Matteuccia of witchcraft. Various charges were filed against her, including making love potions with her herbs, conjuring a demon in the form of a goat, telling the concubine of a priest a recipe to create a contraceptive drink, collecting the blood of infants for ointment, and flying to a gathering of witches multiple times.
Under torture, she eventually confessed to performing all these activities, and in 1428, the authorities decided to burn her at the stake.
Ursula Kemp practised folk healing and medicine, much like Matteuccia, and lived in Essex, England. She was called upon by many people to heal their ailments, but many turned against her after her cures didn’t work.
Her neighbours testified against her and said she intentionally caused illness to her clients because she was a witch. One woman blamed Ursula for making her lame, causing the death of her baby, and her son’s sickness. Even Ursula’s son admitted to his mom having four familiars that neighbours reported had killed townspeople: a dog, lamb, toad, and black cat.
Ursula was brought before a Justice who told her that she would receive a more lenient sentence if she confessed to her crimes; when she suddenly burst into tears and admitted to it all. She explained that two of her familiars were males who killed people and the other two were females who made people ill.
After listening to Ursula plead guilty, the Justice sentenced her to death, and she was hanged in 1582.
Submitted by Akira Noma